Md Sahabuddin has become the new resident of Banga Bhaban taking oath as 22nd president of the country today. He has taken the charge as head of state at a moment when the crisis among the political parties is on the rise ahead of the national election. The crux of the crisis is the electoral system of the country.

Media talked with the new president on 17 April where the issues such as present political situation and the next general election came up.

President Sahabuddin told Prothom Alo that it is the duty of the Election Commission to create a conducive environment so that people can vote. He would urge the commission to discharge that task dutifully.

On the question of taking initiative for dialogue among political parties to bridge the existing gaps, the new president said he would assess the political situation after taking charge and do anything he can as the president.

The next general election is scheduled to be held within 8 to 9 months. BNP and other anti-government parties have been continuing their movement demanding that a neutral government oversees the general election. The ruling Awami League maintains it would conduct the election as per the constitution. In such a situation, experts fear the ongoing crisis over the electoral system is likely to deepen in coming days. Many will observe closely what role the president can play in this regard. Many stakeholders hope he takes a role creating a favourable environment.

Asked if he would take any initiative to resolve the political crisis over the electoral system, Sahabuddin said, “I would not say anything about this now. I will assess the political situation to find out what I can do. I will act accordingly. I personally believe that the election must be fair.”

“I will do whatever it takes as a president to conduct a fair, participatory and credible national election,” he added hoping that the election would be held on time.

Winning trust
Awami League nominated Md Sahabuddin as president candidate on 12 February. He was elected president unopposed the following day. Till AL nominated him, speculations were rife as to who is going to get AL nomination for the post. The ruling party nomination of Sahabuddin came as a surprise to many. Later, it was assumed that question of allegiance to the party and its ideals were the determining factors.

BNP and like-minded parties are yet to congratulate the president maintaining they do not have any concern over the matter since they have been launching a movement demanding the current government steps down and the election to be held under a neutral government.

Asked how he would win the confidence of other parties as he was involved with the politics of the ruling party, Sahabuddin said, “As a president, I would work neutrally. I served as senior district judge for 27 years of my life. I performed that duty absolutely impartially. I never faced any allegation of biasness towards anyone or impartiality.”

“I would act neutrally while discharging duties as the president. I would duly fulfill the responsibilities vested upon me by the constitution,” he added.

Born on 10 December in 1949 in Pabna, Md Sahabuddin was president of Pabna district Chhatra League and became district unit Jubo League president in 1974. He was convener of Pabna district unit Swadhin Bangla Chhatra Sangram Parishad. Later he took part in the liberation war.

Sahabuddin was incarcerated after the killing of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman in 1975. He was coordinator assigned to the ministry of law, justice and parliamentary affairs in the Bangabandhu murder case.

Sahabuddin joined judiciary from Bangladesh Cadre Service (BCS) in 1982 and was elected secretary general of Judicial Service Association in 1995. He went to retirement 27 years after the service as district and sessions judge.

Sahabuddin served as a commissioner of Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) from 2011 to 2016 and later became a director of Islami Bank in 2017. He later became vice president of the bank. He also became a member of AL’s advisory board.

When will he shift to Bangabhaban

Md Sahabuddin was sworn in as the 22nd president of Bangladesh at the Darbar Hall of Bangabhaban at 11:00 this morning. Jatiya Sangsad (parliament) speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury administered the oath at the office of the president. Prime minister Sheikh Hasina, Chief Justice Hasan Foez Siddique, cabinet members, lawmakers, political leaders, civil and military officials and several hundred distinguished guests attended the state ceremony. Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman’s younger daughter Sheikh Rehana also accompanied the prime minister.

President’s press secretary Joynal Abedin told that Md Sahabuddin became the president immediately after taking oath. The outgoing president Abdul Hamid then exchanged the chair with his successor. They later took part at a tea party with the guests.

The outgoing president Abdul Hamid has been given a befitting farewell after the oath ceremony. He will shift to a house at Nikunja today.

Abdul Hamid had moved into Bangabhaban on 24 April 2013 after being elected president uncontested. Earlier, he took the responsibility of president in-charge and acting president for 40 days during the ailment and death of then president Md Zillur Rahman. Abdul Hamid, however, did not reside at Bangabhaban at that time.

He moved to Bangabhaban only after being elected president. He will leave the Bangabhaban today after staying there for 10 years.

The new president will shift to Bangabhaban at 8:00pm today.

President’s power is limited

As per the constitution, the president takes precedence over all other persons. President is the head of state, but not head of the government. The power of president is limited as per our constitution. A president has only two independent jurisdictions.

A president can appoint chief justice and prime minister independently. The president, however, has indirect power. The prime minister places any issue to the cabinet if president requests.

When it comes to indirect power, it seems as if the president has vast powers, but that is not so. The president does not need to take anyone’s advice in appointing the prime minister and chief justice. Other than these powers, president cannot do anything without consulting the prime minister.

The constitution stipulates that the question whether any, and if so, what advice has been tendered by the prime minister to the president, shall not be enquired into in any court.

The president also enjoys power to grant pardons, reprieves and respites and to remit, suspend or commute any sentence passed by any court, tribunal or other authority.

President’s immunity

As per the constitution, the president shall not be answerable in any court for anything done or omitted by him in the exercise or purported exercise of the functions of his office. During his term of office no criminal proceedings whatsoever shall be instituted or continued against the president in, and no process for his arrest or imprisonment shall issue from, any court.

There was a discussion about striking a balance of power between the president and prime minister in different times. Political parties also supported the idea in different occasions but the issue remains only on paper.

Many constitution experts are of the view that although president’s power is limited, he is like a guardian of the state and the post has a symbolic importance. As a result, the president can take steps out of moral position in any crisis of the country.

It is also a generally held view that president can take some steps including trying to resolve conflict among parties during the election despite having limited jurisdiction. As the conflict over electoral systems continues, the issue of president’s role comes to the fore during every election.

Many analysts hope the new president takes a role in resolving the existing political conflict ahead of the national election.